Can Markets Compute Equilibria?

Author/Editor:

Hunter K Monroe

Publication Date:

February 1, 2009

Electronic Access:

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Disclaimer: This Working Paper should not be reported as representing the views of the IMF.The views expressed in this Working Paper are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent those of the IMF or IMF policy. Working Papers describe research in progress by the author(s) and are published to elicit comments and to further debate

Summary:

Recent turmoil in financial and commodities markets has renewed questions regarding how well markets discover equilibrium prices, particularly when those markets are highly complex. A relatively new critique questions whether markets can realistically find equilibrium prices if computers cannot. For instance, in a simple exchange economy with Leontief preferences, the time required to compute equilibrium prices using the fastest known techniques is an exponential function of the number of goods. Furthermore, no efficient technique for this problem exists if a famous mathematical conjecture is correct. The conjecture states loosely that there are some problems for which finding an answer (i.e., an equilibrium price vector) is hard even though it is easy to check an answer (i.e., that a given price vector is an equilibrium). This paper provides a brief overview of computational complexity accessible to economists, and points out that the existence of computational problems with no best solution algorithm is relevant to this conjecture.

Series:

Working Paper No. 09/24

Subject:

English

Publication Date:

February 1, 2009

ISBN/ISSN:

9781451871715/1018-5941

Stock No:

WPIEA2009024

Format:

Paper

Pages:

22

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